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Patrick Marleau: from Saskatchewan farm boy to making history in the NHL

Click to play video: 'Aneroid, Sask.’s Patrick Marleau breaks NHL record set by ‘Mr. Hockey’' Aneroid, Sask.’s Patrick Marleau breaks NHL record set by ‘Mr. Hockey’
WATCH: Patrick Marleau now holds the record for most career NHL games ever played. Allison Bamford spoke with one of his biggest supporters about the accomplishment and what he was like growing up in Aneroid, Sask – Apr 23, 2021

As Patrick Marleau gains on one of the late Gordie Howe’s records, it’s difficult not to draw similarities between the players nicknamed “Mr. Shark” and “Mr. Hockey,” respectively.

Both were born and raised in Saskatchewan, became ice hockey legends with their American teams and hold sole possession of first and second place on the NHL’s all-time list for most games played.

“The Howes are very excited about it. I mean, it’s an incredible achievement and what better person to do it than another Saskatchewan boy?” Gordie’s son Murray said.

“There’s no doubt that dad would get a kick out of that. He always had a soft spot in his heart for any Saskatchewan players, he would hit them less hard than the other opponents.”

Read more: Gordie Howe’s career by the numbers

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Parents Denis and Jeanette Marleau still reside on the farm where Patrick grew up, around nine kilometres northwest of Aneroid.

“He was taught to (have a strong work ethic). You work, you have responsibilities and you need to get the chores done,” said Jeanette, who was his teacher.

“His main interest was hockey right from when he was four years old.”

Denis recalled his son being athletic in track and field races and baseball but nothing interested him more than playing in the NHL one day.

“(At) seven years old, he’d watch Hockey Night in Canada … Mario Lemieux broke in as a rookie, and he scored and he had two players latched onto him and (Patrick) hollered, ‘dad, you got to come to see the replay,’” Denis said.

“I would say that every other day he’d have a hockey stick in his hand like he’d be shooting pucks out in the barnyard.

“He ate and slept hockey … That was his dream, to play NHL hockey.”

A family photo of brother Richard (left), father Denis (middle) and Patrick (right). While wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, Denis said his son’s favourite team growing up was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Marleau Family / Supplied

While starting out in figure skating with his older sister, Denise, Patrick got involved with hockey around age seven and was coached by his father during Aneroid minor hockey.

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After playing with the Swift Current Legionnaires in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL), he was drafted to the Seattle Thunderbirds, sixth overall, in the 1994 Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft.

Seattle’s vice-president of hockey operations, Russ Farwell, was the general manager back in 1995 when Patrick showed up as a 16-year-old rookie.

“Even as a kid and he was impressive. We had (Thunderbirds’) spring camp in Calgary. We had the lab there doing our fitness testing and they ran him through the same tests that they’d done with the (Calgary) Flames the week before,” Farwell said.

“Pat got on the leg press and started pumping out presses and the guys finally just stopped him. He had already gone by three-quarters of what the Flames guys had done and they just were blown away by how strong he was.

“Right then, Pat set himself apart.”

Read more: Love of hockey kept Saskatchewan referee officiating for nearly 45 years

Besides having the “perfect hockey physique,” Farwell said Patrick’s greatest attribute on the ice has always been his skating.

“Very explosive, even at a young age, with his legs and just had a great frame athletically to play hockey and it’s shown. I think that’s why he’s been able to play so long … just how explosive he was and how quick he got to top speed,” Farwell said.

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“It’s been a phenomenal career and because of how strong and resilient he is, he’s lasted but he’s also played at such a high level … because he’s such a great skater.”

Besides Patrick Marleau, other Saskatchewan NHLers drafted out of the Seattle Thunderbirds club include Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear and retired forward Brooks Laich. Seattle Thunderbirds / Supplied

While spending the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons with the Thunderbirds, Patrick wound go on to lead the team in scoring at 17 and become captain.

He was drafted second overall in 1997 by the San Jose Sharks where he’d accrue most of his 566 goals that landed him at 23rd on the NHL’s all-time list. Howe has 801 goals in second place, behind “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, with 891.

The Sharks’ veteran has won Olympic gold twice with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014, as well as made it to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final but is still chasing the elusive trophy.

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“I’m sure that he would love to be able to win the Stanley Cup. That’s the ultimate goal,” Jeanette said.

“He’s moved around a bit the last few years but the length of time he’s been there and the fact that (the Sharks) brought him back. He’s a real classy character guy too and I think that has helped. He’s always been a good teammate,” Farwell said.

“I don’t know when he’ll stop because he still skates … You would just never guess how old he is.”

Read more: New arena in Perdue, Sask. opens more than 3 years after old one burned down

The 41-year-old is currently the third oldest in the league behind Zdeno Chára, 44, and Joe Thornton, who was drafted first overall ahead of Patrick in 1997. The oldest NHL player ever, Howe, appeared in his last game at the ripe age of 52 and 11 days in April 1980, according to Guinness World Records.

“When (Gordie) retired, he even told me, he said, ‘I think I still have a couple more good years left in me,’” Murray said.

“But he was starting to get less playing time and so it just wasn’t fun for him. So he said, ‘I’m going to hang up the blades and do something where I can be more productive.’ But up until that last season, he didn’t miss a game in his last season, which is just phenomenal and he was one of the better players on the ice, even at 52.”

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Potentially, Patrick could tie Howe’s record of 1,767 games at the Minnesota Wild’s barn on Saturday, April 17.

“Oh, I know Jeanette and I are very excited. I didn’t think that Gordie’s record could be broken but with Patrick being healthy and still playing at 41 years old is quite a feat,” Denis said.

“He definitely keeps in shape … He’s very devoted, more devoted than I would have been.

“He’s been pretty fortunate to be healthy enough. I know he’s probably got a few bruises and aches that he doesn’t tell his mother.”

Flowers are placed at a statue of Gordie Howe at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon after he passed away on June 10, 2016. Liam Richards / The Canadian Press

Murray added that records are meant to be broken and expects that Patrick likely won’t be the last.

“It is only out of pure joy from our family’s perspective that the game is still so great and that players are able to receive that desire to break through those barriers and just keep … doing more amazing things on the ice,” he said.

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“The things that (Gordie) did on the ice were incredible and maybe a lot of those things will never be matched, not in terms of numbers, but just in terms of the qualitative things that he did on the ice: being able to fight two people at one time, or play for several years with his sons on a pro team and win a couple of championships at the age of 45.

“But it’s really what Mr. Hockey did off the ice that is his legacy. How much he gave to the fans, his family and to the community. That’s the bar that’s tough to beat.”

The top spot for most NHL games ever played could switch hands on Monday, April 19, with the Sharks bout scheduled against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“I want to be looked upon when I’m gone that I gave it my all,” Patrick said on Thursday. “Enjoyed the game, loved the game, loved being around the team, loved winning games. Those are the biggest things.”

— With a file from The Associated Press’ Josh Dubow

Click to play video: '‘It’s so special’: Gordie Howe’s family honours Mr. Hockey’s birthplace' ‘It’s so special’: Gordie Howe’s family honours Mr. Hockey’s birthplace
‘It’s so special’: Gordie Howe’s family honours Mr. Hockey’s birthplace – Jun 10, 2019

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